Training and Testing Explosive Detection Dogs in Detecting Triacetone Triperoxide

Article excerpt

Abstract

Improvised explosive mixtures such as triacetone triperoxide (TATP) are a new challenge in combating terrorism and crime. Traditionally trained bomb dogs need to be trained on these products, but the dangers in synthesizing and storing these products create difficulties. In this study, training aids were developed based on TATP produced in very small amounts using pure base compounds. Both experienced and new dogs were trained using these aids. The dogs were subsequently tested on detecting solid crystalline TATP synthesized using different base compounds and production methods. Dogs trained to respond to the training aids demonstrated a sufficient response to different kinds of crystalline TATP, whereas no systematic false alerts on either acetone or hydrogen peroxide were noted.

Introduction

In today's world, improvised explosive devices and homemade explosives are a major threat to public safety. Often, these explosives are easy to make. Base components are readily available, and the production methods can be found on the Internet. However, because many of these homemade explosives are extremely sensitive to impact, friction, and electrostatic discharge, the synthesis as well as the storage can be extremely dangerous (Dubnikova et al. 2005). The friction sensitivity of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) is 0.3 Nm (nitroglycerin has a friction sensitivity of 0.2 Nm), and its explosive power is close to that of TNT (trinitrotoluene). It is classified as a primary high explosive. Incidents have been reported in which TATP has exploded without external stimulus. The known sensitivity of TATP creates a danger to those handling or storing even small amounts. TATP has been described as a common terrorist bomb by Hayden (2004), and it achieved notoriety through Shoe Bomber Richard Reid, who planned to use it on an American Airlines flight in December 2001.

Because TATP is highly volatile, it should be easy for dogs trained on its odor to locate it. However, TATP is extremely dangerous to synthesize and work with. It is therefore necessary to develop a training aid that can be produced in a safe manner. Using such an aid to train explosive detection dogs should enable them to find solid TATP--indeed, not only the TATP on which they were trained but also TATP produced in different manners, that is, by using different base components in different degrees of purity.

For example, acetone is a known degradation product of TATP (Oxley et al. 2002). This fact currently provides the basis for the training method used by some agencies in Israel, where dogs are trained to detect acetone. Based on this training method, the dogs are said to detect TATP (Gluk, personal communication, April 7, 2005). This can be a useful method depending on the operational use of the dogs. When working outdoors checking for car bombs, a dog is unlikely to come across acetone, which would create an unwanted alert. But in many countries, the same dogs that detect TATP are also used to conduct house searches, where they are likely to come across products containing acetone, such as nail polish remover. Thus, in the Netherlands, training with acetone was not considered an option.

Oxley et al. (2004) used trace amounts of solid TATP and TATP-vapor-saturated cotton balls to train and test dogs. They showed that two dogs trained on the vapor-saturated cotton balls responded directly to solid TATP both in a training-wheel situation and in a room search, after which they gradually increased the difficulty of the training-wheel tests. The tests were conducted blind, and in the room search, a non-TATP-trained bomb dog also searched the rooms as a control.

Two points of criticism can be made of this study. First, a proper test should contain distractors that have been placed at the same time as the target odor. This is necessary to prevent the dogs from using any cue other than the target odor itself. …